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Back page interview

02 November 2006

I am really looking forward to getting back to grass-roots contact with poor communities and to thinking through development issues from the Christian perspective. I have worked in the field of world development for the past 15 years but from a different standpoint.

I worked for the Government at the Department for International Development [DfID], and my most recent role was overseeing relations with multilateral partnerships such as the World Bank and the UN. I was managing very large UK subsidies at board level. I was also responsible for trade-, conflict-, and humanitarian work.

I saw poverty face to face when I spent three years in Bangladesh with DfID as deputy director for Asia. This was a hugely formative experience; I was based in Dhaka, which, despite the poverty, is incredibly beautiful.

My mum always wanted me to become a stockbroker, but in my late teenage years I got into development. After studying at Cambridge, I went to Malawi as an economist with the overseas-development ministry. I think going to Malawi and opting for the development route was one of the biggest choices I have made in life; the other was becoming a Christian when I was 18.

Claire Short was an inspirational leader of DfID, and she was crucial in forming the department after 1997. But I very much enjoyed working for both the Secretaries of State for International Development: Claire Short and Hilary Benn. He is continuing the work Claire Short started, and is strongly committed to water aid and other key issues.

One of Tearfund’s great strengths is its commitment to partnership . I will oversee a budget of more than £27 million that covers 200 projects abroad through partner organisations in more than 60 countries.

Tanzania is a good example. Tearfund has very strong links with three of the Anglican dioceses. There is a great sense of depth of partnership support, right down to villages’ and local churches’ working together to improve conditions.

In Niger and Burkina Faso, Tearfund has been supporting six partners in responding to the current food-security crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa. More than five million people have been affected, including more than three million in Niger. Although there are good prospects for the forthcoming harvest in many parts of the region, the immediate needs remain acute: more than a quarter of people suffer from malnutrition in some areas in the north of Niger.

Food prices have soared across the region, and many families have had to sell livestock and other assets to survive, meaning that there will be long-term development needs once the immediate crisis has passed.

Tearfund has more than £2 million to spend in response to the crisis , through a combination of the appeal by the Disasters and Emergencies Committee and gifts from supporters, which gives us a real opportunity to make a significant difference in the region.

The Make Poverty History campaign has given some people their first taste of how they can make a difference just through campaigning and lifestyle. There is a huge amount that individuals can do, and Tearfund already has a very committed supporter base in the UK.

I tend to read a lot of non-fiction, books on economics and development issues. But I am reading The World is not Enough by Zoe Oldenbourg, all about the Middle Ages.

My two teenage children are very interested in development issues , and my wife teaches English to refugees in Lambeth. We live in south London.

A lot of development work is not as effective as it could be . The international system does not do a good enough job in supporting developing countries. I strongly regret that the resources the West has available are not applied in an effective way in the developing world. One of my passions is to see this change.

I would like to be remembered as someone who encouraged people with a vision that the world could be changed using the resources we all have.

I was greatly inspired by a former colleague and economist at DfID, Alan Coverdale, who died of cancer. He believed strongly in the model that Christians must be engaged in development.

I still remember a sermon I heard in Cambridge 25 years ago on 1 John 3.1 — and that little phrase "And that is what we are!" It never ceases to amaze me. I still turn to various parts of Romans, particularly the first eight chapters, but I am not so keen on the early parts of the Old Testament like Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

I get very angry about the situation of powerless people, such as women with HIV in developing countries who have no possessions, whose children are taken away from them, and who lose their opportunity for life and dignity. But there is nothing better than seeing people’s lives transformed, when they are empowered so they can make a difference to their own lives.

I am a great supporter of fairtrade goods. My particular favourite is Traidcraft fudge.

For spiritual refreshment I enjoy going into an empty church in the City of London and just sitting in the quiet. I particularly love the old churches. For holidays, we love the seaside and sunshine in the south of France, but I also like swimming all year round at Tooting Bec Lido. I play a bit of tennis.

I would like to get locked in a church with Elaine Storkey [the chief executive of Tearfund], and discuss all sorts of things; but we are travelling to India together for Tearfund next year, which will have to do.

Peter Grant was talking to Rachel Harden.


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